View Full Version : Bush On The Hot Spot

06-12-2005, 08:09 PM
Bush on the hot spot
One man's terrorist, another man's freedom-fighter


Friday, June 10, 2005 Updated at 1:07 AM EDT

The U.S. "war on terror" took a decidedly strange and unpredictable turn recently when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials finally arrested the notorious Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles for entering the U.S. illegally. They are now holding him without bond pending an "immigration" hearing on June 13.

A self-professed anti-communist "freedom fighter," Mr. Posada, 77, is legendary for his alleged involvement in numerous plots to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro, and has admitted to helping organize the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. His presence in the United States has enraged Mr. Castro, who regards Mr. Posada as "the most famous and cruel terrorist of the Western hemisphere." Last month, more than a million Cubans demonstrating against global terrorism in front of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana demanded that the United States take action against Mr. Posada. In an impassioned speech, Mr. Castro declared: "This is not a march against the people of the United States. It is a march against terrorism, in favour of life and of peace."

Mr. Posada is wanted in Venezuela in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, among them 24 members of Cuba's national fencing team. Though he has never been convicted, and denies any role in the attack, he spent nine years in a Venezuela jail awaiting trial for the bombing (he escaped in 1985). He is also implicated in the 1997 bombing of the Copacabana Hotel in Havana - and event that resulted in the death of a Montreal tourist.

Mr. Posada slipped into the U.S. earlier this year and was in hiding until his arrest in May. With Mr. Posada sure to seek political asylum in the United States (undoubtedly consuming years of litigation), it will be interesting to watch the ideological acrobatics of the Bush administration.

To date, rather than send Mr. Posada off to Cuba or Venezuela (where he was once a citizen and operated his alleged terrorist activities in the late 1970s), the Bush administration has responded with a firm No. Does this not raise the prospect of other countries refusing U.S. extradition requests for suspected terrorists?

Livio Di Celmo, brother of the Montreal man killed in the 1997 bombing in Cuba, is understandably outraged with the U.S. over these latest developments. "It's like a New York or New Jersey resident who lost a relative in the Sept. 11 attacks, and the mastermind of this terrorist act is living in Canada. Wouldn't they be upset at the Canadian government?" he said.

Before his arrest, Mr. Posada had been illegally residing in South Florida for some six weeks. Around the same time, the U.S. Justice Department increased the bounty from $50,000 to $1-million on convicted murderer and Black Panther activist Assata Shakur who has lived in Cuba for the past 25 years.

Until recently, U.S. officials had repeatedly claimed ignorance even about Mr. Posada's whereabouts. Yet, in March, Mr. Posada's lawyer announced that his client was living in the United States. And Mr. Posada himself even held a press conference in Miami. Thousands of U.S. agents have been assigned to defend the United States against terrorism, yet they couldn't locate a 77-year-old accused terrorist who held a press conference.

Meanwhile, ever since 9/11, Washington has made it increasingly difficult for genuine refugees to gain sanctuary in the United States. If Mr. Posada is given asylum in the U.S., what message does that send to the rest of the world? Are U.S. borders open to anti-Castro terrorists but not to bona fide refugees? Clearly, if Mr. Posada was a suspected Islamic terrorist, the Bush administration would not be so accommodating. Put another way, would the United States be so passive if Cuba was harbouring Osama bin Laden?

Why the double standard? Obviously, the Bush administration won't extradite or deport Mr. Posada for crudely political reasons - namely, for fear of jeopardizing the Republican hold on the Cuban-American vote in Florida. In addition, the last thing that Mr. Bush wants is to hand a huge public relations victory to Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, his two leading critics in the Americas.

There is also the overwhelming evidence from the Washington-based National Security Archive that Mr. Posada had an extensive career as both a CIA and FBI operative - confirming his close ties to the ruthless U.S.-backed contras in Nicaragua during the 1980s.

Whatever the reasons, Mr. Bush has found himself in a veritable terror conundrum. The credibility and the legitimacy of the U.S. war against terrorism is on the line. But his own anti-Castro predisposition and well-honed political instincts tell him to look the other way.

One possible option would be for Washington to deport Mr. Posada to a third country somewhere in Europe or Central America - possibly El Salvador, where there is an overtly pro-Washington government. There is even some talk that Mr. Posada could be sent to the detention centre, Camp X-ray, at the U.S. naval facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In any event, Mr. Bush's obvious double standard here is bringing into serious question his commitment to combatting international terrorism. And this dictum of "do what we say, not what we do" will be easily recognized by the rest of the global community. Who would have figured that the Bush administration's anti-Cuba bent would trump its concerns about global terrorism in the post-9/11 environment?

Peter McKenna of the University of Prince Edward Island and John M. Kirk of Dalhousie University are the authors of Canada-Cuba Relations: The Other Good Neighbour Policy.